Maneuvering through the challenges of adolescence comes with many difficulties
and stressors. Issues regarding sexual orientation and gender identity
often bring a host of internal anxieties and confusion, and being seen
as different in any way can lead to serious stigmatization amongst peers.
For full disclosure, I am not an expert in LBGTQ (Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay,
Transgender, Questioning) issues, but this is an essential topic and in
this article my hope is to share the basics with our community. If your
child or family needs professional assistance with concerns related to
LBGTQ, know that there are great resources and very qualified professionals
who can provide support.
Among adolescents ages 18-19, just under 8 percent of females and just
under 3 percent of males identify as homosexual or bisexual (source:
HHS.gov), while 0.7 percent of the population ages 13 to 17 identify as one of the two.
While many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) adolescents are
happy and thrive during their teenage years, many feel isolated, ashamed
and afraid of being discovered that they are different. As a result, they
may face significant psychological and social issues. While in most issues
of conflict, children have the support and understanding of their parents,
many LBGTQ youth may feel they have to keep their feelings hidden from
their families, and when they are known, often do not feel or get any
support. This complicates and intensifies the psychological issues. As
a result, LBGTQ teens have higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal
ideation, and are often the recipients of severe bullying. Some of the
- 77 percent of LBGTQ teens have admitted to depression
- 95 percent have trouble sleeping
- 70 percent have experienced feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness
- 26 percent say they don’t feel safe in schools, and only 5 percent
feel supported by school staff and teachers
- 67 percent have heard negative comments from their own families
- 73 percent have experienced verbal threats, and have experienced bullying
because of their sexual orientation
Knowing how to be available, present, and loving to your child when they
have the courage to let you know about their sexual orientation or non-conforming
gender identity is essential. For many, “coming out” and breaking
the news to their parents is extremely frightening, yet at the same time
acceptance and support are the most helpful things a parent can give.
For many parents, this area is more confusing than most, and parents often
feel helpless and uninformed. However, letting your child know that you
love him/her and that you will provide support regardless of your own
fears and confusion can be monumental for the child. Should your child
express themselves to you, some suggestions are:
- Educate yourself, and learn the facts. There are excellent LBGTQ centers
in Los Angeles that have resources, reading materials and parental workshops.
Acceptance and love of your child is first and foremost, and if your own
feelings are interfering, make sure you get support for what you may be
going through. Find professional help if needed. Do not project your fears
and difficulties onto your child. As difficult as this is for you as a
parent, it is more difficult for a kid or teen. Your child needs your
help and needs to know you are there for him/her.
- Embrace your child. This is not just a phase that will pass, nor something
that needs to be “cured.”
- Stay aware for signs of depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts. These
may be expressed directly, or may be subtle, with symptoms like isolation,
a sense of hopelessness, fear of engaging in social activities, a decline
in grades and/or the use of drugs or alcohol to self-medicate.
- Look for incidents of bullying, either directly or through social media.
Be an advocate for your child if you see signs, and help stand up for
them with school personnel or with other parents.
- Consider advocating for your child’s rights and feelings and get
involved with other parents doing the same thing. Our community has great
resources of parents helping each other to make sure they have the tools
to help their children. Do not stand quietly while friends joke or judge
about LBGTQ issues, and let others know you will not tolerate that.
- Help them learn about healthy relationships, even if they are not going
down the road you have envisioned for them. Letting them know about respect,
healthy dating and self-protection is important.
While this can be a difficult time for your child and your family, it is
your duty to provide love, caring, education and support. Know that you
are not alone. Our community has many great resources and outstanding
experts available to provide guidance and care. A good place to start is with
www.southbayfamiliesconnected.org, which has articles, parental blogs and resources. They also have a page
for parents of LGBTQ+ youth:
Remember, if you have issues you would like to see addressed, please email me at
Moe Gelbart, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Thelma McMillen Center